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Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 25:6-9; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; Mark 16:1-8 or John 20:1-18; Acts 10:34-43 or 1 Corinthians 15:1-11

Hallelujah! Christ is Risen! We celebrate by looking back in our Hebrew scriptures to Isaiah, who spoke about a time of great celebration, of a time when death was no more. As Christians we celebrate the end of death by Christ’s resurrection; but the theme of new life, of a life where death has no power, has been a part of the prophetic tradition long before the first century. Isaiah gives the people hope through God’s promise, of a time where God will gather up all the people, prepare a great feast for all peoples, and death and sin are swallowed up forever. Paul eludes to this passage in 1 Corinthians 15, indicating that the idea of God’s design for life is carried over from the very beginning, from all time–God has desired life for us, and as Christians we see the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus the Christ, in his life, death, and his resurrection.

Part of the passage from Psalm 118 overlaps from the passage read on Palm Sunday, and is appropriate to share these words again in the light of the Resurrection. The psalmist in 118 sings for great joy for God’s deliverance, proclaiming the good works of God, who delivers even from death. “I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the Lord” (vs. 17). Our lives are witnesses to God’s goodness and grace, witnesses to the new life found on earth and the promise of resurrection.

Mark 16:1-8 is the briefest passage in the Gospels about Christ’s resurrection. The ending is so short and abrupt that transcribers of the Gospel had to add alternate endings because it appears to end mid-sentence in the Greek. And in Mark’s account, not even the women, who faithfully come to the tomb on that first morning, go out to proclaim the good news–instead, they flee in terror and amazement, and say nothing to anyone (vs. 8). The Resurrection of Jesus, though foretold in the Gospels, was never expected or understood by the people closest to Jesus. It is something new, something amazing, something so wondrous that it takes a while for it to sink in. Even today, the Resurrection remains a great mystery, misunderstood by many, something that cannot be fully comprehended. We try to fit the meaning of the Resurrection, of Jesus’ life and death and life again, into a box, but the box is flung open, for any time we try to trap the meaning of the Resurrection into one atonement theory or one viewpoint, we limit our own relationship with Christ and in our own understanding of the new life offered by Christ. Rather, perhaps we ought to be more like the women in Mark’s account–instead of going out and telling everyone what we think we know, we ought to tremble in awe and amazement at what God has done and continues to do–turning the world and life as we know it, upside down, to the point that life cannot be contained through death.

John 20:1-18 contrasts Mark 16 in giving more details than any account of the Gospels, an account in which Mary Magdalene is the first to see Jesus, but does not recognize him and mistakes him for the gardener. In many accounts of the Resurrection, including Luke’s Gospel, the disciples do not recognize the risen Christ at first. I suspect that they did not recognize the risen Christ because of their expectations, and similarly, why we at times struggle with the risen Christ in our own faith life–our expectations have been blown away by the Resurrection. Death is supposed to be final, but it is not. A beloved one is not supposed to come back, let alone come back with their very scars they left the world with. But Jesus recognizes each of his followers when he rises, and Jesus continues to recognize each one of us, even though we may not recognize Christ. Our expectations limit us, where Christ is limitless. Again, the world is turned upside down because of the Resurrection.

Acts 10: 34-43 shares Peter’s own account of the Resurrection as he tells the Gentiles–those who would not have been present to the Resurrection, those who never had heard a sermon by Jesus in the synagogue or witnessed his healing ministry. Peter proclaims that this Good News is for all people who believe, and that all people can receive forgiveness and the gift of new life in God through Jesus the Christ.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11 is also a proclamation to Gentiles as well as to Jews of the Good News of Christ’s resurrection. Paul speaks of God’s grace that has led Paul to salvation in Jesus the Christ, and that through the grace of God Paul has been able to live out the Gospel so that others have come to believe.

This is our purpose: to make our lives living witnesses to God’s love and grace found in Jesus the Christ. When we try to water-down the message into something simple, something we have to do to earn resurrection–it all falls apart. Rather than trying to put the message of Jesus into a nice packaged box, we need to recognize that God is blowing the boxes apart–God has turned the world upside down. There is nothing we can do to change that, we can only live into God’s love as witnesses of what God has done for the world–raising Christ from the dead, so that we too know that life, and God, and love, are all limitless. Christ is Risen!

Call to Worship (singing refrain is from All Creatures of our God and King):
Leader: The stone is rolled away and the tomb is found empty!
People (singing): Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: We are called to proclaim the Good News of the Resurrection!
People (singing): Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Though doubt and fear may enter, hope and love are triumphant!
People (singing): Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Leader: Christ is Risen! Our lives are now witnesses to the new life in Christ!
People (singing): Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!
All: Let us worship Christ, risen from the dead! (singing) Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Prayer of Confession:
Wondrous God, we confess that at times our doubts and fears override our hope and faith. Forgive us when we lose sight of the joy of Your love and instead fall into despair and gloom. Lift up our spirits, Lord, and help us to remember the promise of new life here and now, not just the hope of resurrection for the future. We give thanks for Your Son, Jesus the Christ, who continues to offer us new life, who continues to turn us around and upside down, who continues to break down the walls of death in our own life. Forgive us, restore us and renew us. In the name of our risen Savior, Jesus the Christ, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon:
The tomb is empty. The stone is rolled away. There is no darkness now, only light. God continues to renew us and restore us. We are forgiven, loved and restored, receiving the gift and promise of new life and resurrection now. Go and share the wondrous news of God’s love in Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of Your glory. Heaven and earth are full of Your love and life. Guide us into ways of living more fully into the life You have given us, so that our lives may shine as witnesses of Your love and grace, mercy and forgiveness. Draw us into deeper relationship with each other so that we might be moved to tear down the darkness and open up the light, by bringing Good News to the oppressed, the poor, the downtrodden, and the marginalized. Help us to witness the Resurrection in all we do and say. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

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